Parenting is a big challenge full of joys, difficulties and attempts to calm and soothe our children.
In our efforts, we frequently have to follow our instincts and just try our best. Sometimes that goes well and sometimes it doesn’t. One of the ways we can help our children is to teach them how to handle their feelings. Here are some strategies you can use to help your children develop emotional competence- the ability to recognize and express feelings appropriately.
Let children know all feelings are okay. This means they are allowed to be sad or angry or happy. Feelings are just signs letting us know what is happening inside of us.
Label the feeling you think your child is experiencing (Ex: “You look sad.”, “You look proud.”). This helps your child offer you feedback on whether or not you got it right. It also helps them identify and label their own emotions.
Listen well- don’t dominate the conversation. Let your child do the talking. Encourage sharing by looking interested and setting aside any distractions while your child is talking to you.
Remember what it was like to be your child’s age. Try not to evaluate the situation using your grown-up judgment and experiences. Think about what it is like for your child, at their age, with their limited experiences and judgment to be going through this right now.
Validate the feeling. It is important to let your child know that what they are feeling makes sense in the moment. It is VERY important at this stage to avoid criticizing, telling your child they are “making a big deal out of nothing” or in any way dismissing how much it matters to them. Just because it is not a big deal to YOU that their 3rd grade classmate has chosen someone else as their best friend does not mean it isn’t tough for your child.
Brainstorm with your child what, if anything, needs to be done right now. If they express they are feeling discomfort (sadness, grief, anger), help them figure out what might help them to feel better.
Praise your child. When children are expressing their feelings appropriately, let them know you like what you hear. The behaviors you pay attention to are the ones that are being reinforced.
This whole process might seem difficult and even overwhelming, especially for children with a high level of emotional need. If you want to receive some support in being able to communicate about feelings with your children in a way that is supportive to them and feels good to you, you might want to consider parenting coaching provided by a Professional Counselor.
I have over 15 years of experience of working with individuals and families, first in child welfare, and then in mental health counseling. I have a Ph. D in Counseling, and am an Interfaith Minister. I work with clients desiring to include all of the aspects of the self in therapy-emotional and spiritual.